Preventive conservation projects at the Fitzwilliam Museum
Under the supervision of Andor Vince, Collection Care Officer, I learned about the principles and methodology of many areas of preventive conservation, which included several practical projects at The Fitzwilliam Museum:
Integrated Pest Management: A consistent regimen of IPM has existed at the Fitzwilliam for approximately five years. In his instruction Andor stressed the importance of establishing a consistent regimen, where data on insect catches can be compared over a minimum of two to three years. By doing so infestations can be discovered, and areas of concern monitored, by following the number of catches of an insect type. Additionally, Andor also stressed that knowing the general state of the room environments can automatically rule out some types of insects (i.e. if a room is always cool and dry there is unlikely to be a problem with silverfish, based on the environment that silverfish need to flourish).
After a visual inspection of selected galleries and storage spaces in the Fitzwilliam Museum, I generated a short report summarizing the finding from the inspection. Additionally, I spent time reviewing the IPM scheme at the Fitzwilliam Museum for a report summarizing the last five years of the IPM program. Assessment of the current program and recommendations were also included.
Light Readings for Government Indemnity: In Britain the government provides funding for insuring works of art on loan to museums, and requires those museums to adhere to certain environmental standards, including light. As such, the Fitzwilliam Museum is required by the government to take quarterly spot light measurements on north, south, east, and west facing walls in all galleries and exhibition spaces. These measurements take place in the early morning when the museum opens and late afternoon before the museum closes. The measurements are recorded and sent to the government in a timely manner.
For two and a half days I used an Elsec light meter to measure light in the designated galleries in the morning and afternoon. I recorded the measurements on floor maps then input the data into an Excel spreadsheet that I repurposed from the previous year’s readings. Additionally, I provided instruction to Jenny Mathiasson, Collections Care Assistant, who was to complete that week’s readings, on how to best take and record the measurements, to ensure consistency with the time of day the readings were taken in each gallery.
Display case specifications: Following instruction and the study of reading material supplied by Andor I created short document for curator Ian Malcom of the Chatteris Museum, a small Cambridgeshire Museum, outlining the general standards for museum cases. Mr. Malcom requested the advice of the Collections Care Department at the Fitzwilliam Museum in order to gain a better idea of specifying suitable cases to display two objects to be loaned from the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which will be included in an upcoming Chatteris Museum exhibition. My goal for the document was to clearly and simply present the general factors that need to be considered and specified for display cases, state what materials are safe or not safe to use, and recommend case manufacturers.
Risk Assessment at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA): One of the projects that arose from the creation of the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM), was to conduct a thorough risk assessment of each museum, eight in total. Three years later the final risk assessment was set to take place at the MAA. Jenny Mathiasson and I accompanied Andor for his assessment of the Archaeology Department of the MAA. This included an initial interview with museum and department staff. The key takeaway points from Andor’s interview were: stressing that the report generated from the risk assessment have a clear purpose by MAA staff, such as a document for pursuing funding and support for collections care from either internal or external sources; understanding the authority structure of the museum organization; and gaining a better understanding of personalities within the organization.
The assessment also included a visual inspection of three museum spaces: a research and seminar room used to both store collection objects as well as teach with them, a collections storage space, the exhibition mount-making workshop, and the exhibition gallery. During the inspection museum staff spoke about their concerns with each space as well as answered questions posed by Andor, Jenny, and I. Following this trip Andor, Jenny, and I met separately to discuss our observations of interactions with staff, and risks associated with the spaces. In general we agreed that the concerns raised by staff do pose some risk to the collection, but we also thought that some important risks were clearly under emphasized with regards to certain aspects of collections storage.
The primary impression from observing and participating in the risk assessment was how important a role organizational politics and personalities play in gathering an accurate view of the risks posed to that museum’s collection, and how important it is to conduct a diplomatic interview. Additionally, it is also important to approach the written assessment report with the same level of diplomacy in order to ensure the assessment is reasonably well-received by the clients.